Tuesday, August 15, 2017

First Documented Visit to, and Sketch of, (Renamed) Shoshone Falls [otd 08/15]

On August 15, 1849, a guide led two men from a column of U. S. Army Mounted Rifles to see a great waterfall on the Snake river, three to four miles northeast of today’s Twin Falls, Idaho. They later told their commander that the huge falls compared favorably to Niagara Falls. (The falls are, in fact, about 45 feet higher than Niagara, although not as wide.)
Shoshone Falls, ca. 1868. Library of Congress.

At that time, the feature was known as “Canadian Falls,” a name picked by early trappers or perhaps a priest. Lieutenant Andrew Lindsay and his civilian companion, George Gibbs, decided to call the spot Shoshone Falls, after the Indian tribe that inhabited the region.

Trained in law at Harvard, Gibbs was also a published author and talented artist. He had joined the Army column at Fort Leavenworth, before it embarked on its march to Oregon. During their visit to the Falls, Gibbs drew what is generally believed to be the first recorded image of the feature.

Congress authorized the Regiment of Mounted Rifles in 1846. Although originally intended as a mobile force to protect growing traffic on the Oregon Trail, the Army sent the regiment to fight in the Mexican-American War. The troops served with distinction in Mexico, then returned to their original mission. After the visit to Shoshone Falls, the regiment continued across Idaho and arrived at Oregon City in early October.

Their commander on the expedition was Brevet Colonel William W. Loring. Born in North Carolina in 1815, Loring had seen militia action in Texas and Florida. He joined the Mounted Rifles for the Mexican War, where he lost his left arm to a cannon shot, and was promoted to Major and then to (Brevet) Colonel. He saw further service after the Oregon trek, but resigned to become a general in the Confederate Army. After the Civil War, he spent ten years serving with the Egyptian Army. Loring returned to the U. S. in 1879 and died in 1886.

Not much happened at the Falls for over a quarter century. Exhausted emigrants had no time for a long, dry trek over rough country, no matter how spectacular the attraction.

Then, in 1875, newcomer Charles Walgamott visited the falls. A native of Iowa, Walgamott had arrived at the Rock Creek stage station less than a month earlier. When he learned that no one had claimed the land around Shoshone Falls, Charlie took a “squatter’s right” to a plot on the south side.

He ran a tourist sideline from Rock Creek until 1882, when crews for the Oregon Short Line graded a railway bed through the growing town of Shoshone. Walgamott realized that his squatter’s right “was on the wrong side of the river.”

Charlie recruited a partner and secured a proper claim on the north side. They cut a stage road to the Falls from the railway station in Shoshone and built a hut on the bluff near the Falls. Business was slow at first, but finally picked up. Then, Charlie said, “In 1883 we sold our holdings to a syndicate of capitalists.”
Falls, recent. Idaho Tourism photo.

Today, the city of Twin Falls maintains tourist facilities on the south side of the canyon overlooking Shoshone Falls. Even during irrigation season, with minimum flows, the Falls are a sight worth seeing.
References: Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
Captain Charles Morton, “The Third Regiment of Cavalry,” The Army of the United States, U.S. Army Center of Military History (2002).
Raymond W. Settle, The March of the Mounted Riflemen, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1989).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho (1936).

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